The Hanging Tree – Ben Aaronovitch

★★★★

PC Peter Grant would be the first to tell you that being a member of The Folly – the department of the London police dedicated to investigating crimes of a magical nature – involves rather little glamour (and glamours) and much more hard graft and paperwork (and practising the fundamentals of spellwork). Peter may have specialized in the thaumaturgical arts, but his natural gifts are closer to the methodical. Peter loves being a policeman, and investigation and doing research (magical and mundane) gives him a nerd-buzz. Early on in the book, another practitioner accuses him of being a total Ravenclaw, and this is entirely accurate ¹.

In policing, your gut might point the way – but it’s the shoe leather that catches criminals.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking him a humourless swot, though – he’s equally fluent in law-enforcement jargon and “cheeky sod”, and one of his greatest skills during “interviews”² is a sort of bland, inoffensive mildness that covers his hawk-keen observational skills and ability to get people to say too much, by “asking stupid questions”. The Hanging Tree is awash in finely honed banter and dry humour.

“Boss,” I said into my Airwave. “It’s getting needlessly metaphysical out here”.

Now, personally, I’d have been happier driving an armored personnel carrier in through the front door. But since we’re the Met, and not the police department of a small town in Missouri, we didn’t have one.

Peter is woken in the wee hours of the morning by The Lady Tyburn – one of London’s wealthiest and most influential river goddesses –  who wishes to call in a debt she is owed. A teenage girl is dead of an overdose, and Lady Ty wants Olivia kept out of it. Death by overdose isn’t the Folly’s usual bailiwick, but signs point to Falcon³involvement – the dead girl may have been a practitioner, the swanky apartment she died in has connections to the Faceless Man. Throw in Reynard the Fox, a rare book everyone in the demi-monde is trying to get their hands on, and an American covert team causing chaos, and the result is yet more delightful destruction and magical mayhem.

“What I’m saying here,” Seawoll had said, “is try to limit the amount of damage you do to none fucking whatsoever.”
I don’t know where I got this reputation for property damage, I really don’t–it’s totally unfair.

PC Grant is the heart that holds this story together – he is growing ever-more capable in his magical abilities, though he’s not nearly at Nightingale level yet. For him, facing enemies carries risk, for himself and his colleagues, and the stakes are often high. He has learned to think quickly, and comes up with unorthodox ways to deal with problems.

As with the other books in the series, this was a quick, satisfying read. Characters like Guleed and Caroline are engaging (and I really enjoyed that the story was so filled with well-written and extremely competent  – sometimes fearsomely so – female characters). The ending was a little bit anticlimactic, and it’s definitely starting to feel like Aaronovitch needs to wrap up the Faceless Man/ Lesley May storyline once and for all. Overall, though, a splendid addition to the series.


¹: Nightingale and Guleed are definitely Gryffindors,  though I suspect Molly is secretly a Hufflepuff.
²: Interrogations.
³: London Police code for magic and/ or spooky stuff.


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